Forest Service wants to charge for video, photos taken in wilderness areas

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Credit: Anne Herbst

DENVER — The U.S. Forest Service is proposing new rules that would require commercial photographers and videographers — including news media — to apply for expensive permits before working in wilderness areas.

The permits would cost up to $1,500 per project, and the Forest Service could refuse any projects it deems inappropriate. If the Forest Service determines that a person has used images taken in wilderness areas without permission, they could be fined more than $1,000 and forced to recall the images.

The proposal, first reported by The Oregonian, has sparked outrage from artists, reporters and bloggers alike.

“What if they deny you a permit because they don’t like the story you’re working on?” Mickey H. Osterreicher of the National Press Photographers Association asked the AP.

Liz Close, the Forest Service’s acting wilderness director, told The Oregonian the restrictions have been in place on a temporary basis for four years, but are now moving toward being made national law. When pressed by the newspaper to provide an example of what problems the policy is meant to address, she declined to answer.

“It’s not a problem, it’s a responsibility,” she said.

The evaluation criteria for permits includes whether the project “spreads information about the enjoyment or use of wilderness or its ecological, geological, scientific, educational, scenic or historical values;” helps preserve the “wilderness character;” and doesn’t advertise products or services.

The rules would include images taken by smart phones and other “non-professional” devices. Many online have expressed concerns that the rules could be applied to non-media people who publish images on blogs or other websites that feature ads, in effect allowing the Forest Service control over anyone who photographs on public land.

The Forest Service dismissed those concerns, saying “If you were engaged on reporting that was in support of wilderness characteristics, that would be permitted.”

Several media groups have already threatened to sue if the plan moves ahead. Those interested in commenting on the proposal can do so online.

The Forest Service oversees more than 100 million acres of public land across the United States, including huge swaths of Colorado. Many of the sites in our Fall Color Guide, for example, would theoretically be subject to the rules, requiring many fall foliage photographers to ask for permits.

“As we mark the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act, we should be encouraging all visitors to share photos of these special places — not imposing erroneous red tape on journalists and other visitors whose tourism drives our local economies,” Sen. Mark Udall said in a statement Thursday. “This proposed rule defies common sense, and I urge all Coloradans to stand with me and voice their concerns with this misguided rule.”

The Forest Service rules would likely apply to the following areas in Colorado:

  • Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests and Pawnee National Grassland
  • Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre, and Gunnison National Forests
  • Pike–San Isabel National Forests and Cimarron–Comanche National Grasslands
  • Rio Grande National Forest
  • San Juan National Forest
  • White River National Forest

10 comments

  • BobfromColorado

    This must thrill Mark Udall no end. He keeps talking about how Wilderness helps the Colorado economy. Now I see the plan. Tax us to create it and then charge us to see it. Obviously the Forest Circus will need more employees to collect the fees so this should help the unemployment problem by adding 85,000 new jobs.

  • BobfromColorado

    This is probably to help pay for the operation of the Forest Service’s Hot Air Balloon. I wonder how many other Federal Agencies have their own Hot Air Balloon.

  • Poppy Chalmers Emigh

    Need answers to concerns expressed in last line of last para in 9/25 USFS post.
    Also, what is the USFS fiscal year estimate of increased revenue vs budget estimate of increased personnel, capitol outlay and maintenance (including cost of defending lawsuits)?
    Will visitors have to sign a purpose statement each time they enter?
    How much would Ansel Adams have had to pay over the five year period of his peak activity?
    Support Sen. Mark Udall.

  • Todd Bradley

    KDVR.com’s commenting system has me baffled. I made a comment on this article a few days ago, and ever since then I’ve gotten emails whenever someone else comments. Now when I look at the article, my comment has disappeared. And nine of the fourteen comments from other people have also disappeared. Why?

    • BobfromColorado

      Call the station, I did. I think someone (more than one someone’s) reported the posts to clear the negative remarks.

      • toddbrad

        Ah, that could be. I posted something criticizing the article for being sloppy journalism, because the article was purposefully misleading. Maybe KDVR doesn’t like people calling them out for twisting the facts.

      • BobfromColorado

        At the time my comments were suspended all the rest could be seen. I assumed it had to do with my being critical of Mark Udall by relating him with the reported Forest Service issue. Or, my critical remark about the Forest Service having their own Hot air Balloon for fun and play. Perhaps the comments were taking on a life of their own beyond the news story.

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